GRAFF - Chinese Graffiti Hub gives a voice to the unheard
Spray painted street poems in China are grabbing attention
Since the dawn of time, graffiti has acted as a reflective tool of the underprivileged, as silenced civilians made the best use of every displayable surface to shine light on their inner thoughts. In this edition of Graff, we are diving into an obscure graffiti scene in China, as we talk to Lil Quacky, the man behind the Chinese Graffiti Hub.
Launched in October 2020 on Instagram and Weibo, Chinese Graffiti Hub has speedily grown into a 73k-follower platform where people are eager to share what they see on the streets. Chinese Graffiti Hub is amateur and raw, but it’s a weirdly fascinating look into what Lil Quacky calls street poems.
Lil Quacky started this now-viral platform after witnessing graffiti from two Chinese contemporary artists: Li Xiangwei [李翔伟] and Murong Yaming [慕容亚明]. “They are the first artists who displayed their prose-based graffiti in public spaces. This art form was extremely rare in China. For instance, Li Xiangwei once painted along the high road turning “Take Away Your Rubbish” [带⾛你的垃圾] into “Take Away Your Love” [带⾛你的爱], such an amazing concept for public art.”
[Take Away Your Love] by Li Xiangwei
At first glance, Chinese Graffiti Hub could be mistaken for your typical meme page, but the further you scroll, the more you realize a bigger story unravels behind this unsophisticated vandalism. On cracked walls, you see uneven Chinese characters spray painted. On the street, you might dismiss them since there is such a wide range of diverse topics from romantic pronouncements to venting about jobs or random scribbling. But when all of these street poems are put together in one place, it is visually intriguing - like a low-budget modern art exhibition.
“There is a significant difference between graffiti artwork and prose-based graffiti in my opinion,” said Lil Quacky. "The graffiti of pure aesthetics focuses more on the visual communication part. It is closely related to Hip Hop culture and pop art as a form of public art that has been well-known and more accepted. However, the graffiti of literal form is somewhat edgy, or even kinda avant-garde nowadays in China, not only because it is law-breaking, but also if you see some literal graffiti in some street corner and you feel that it’s rather sophisticated and mind-provoking.”
[Civilization is built on ruins]
This might have something to do with the history of graffiti in China. Since the formation of the PRC government, graffiti has been used as a vessel to promote socialism. “People were, and still are always aware of whatever is popping up on the street. Except in the past, the government was the predominant user, and now it is the people who are making use of spaces and walls to express their unheard voices. You can see the correlation in between,” Lil Quacky said.
Another notable thing about Chinese Graffiti Hub is how disparity and jadedness can often be found in a lot of the posts shared. It’s almost like nihilism and cynicism course through the veins of many Chinese young adults. “There are also a lot of people who are highly aware of how unfair modern society is, hence the cynical and nihilistic approach you see in this graffiti.”
But it’s not all disparity. Chinese Graffiti Hub also exhibits a dark sense of humor. The most popular posts on Instagram, with over 13k likes, features a wall-sized slogan stating, “If there were no [blank], it would not be worth living a life”, and a man with the word ‘love’ painted on his back in the middle of the statement “What is the purpose of life if there is no love.” Another popular post is a simple line that states “Log out from the world.’ This is probably why people are so obsessed with Chinese Graffiti Hub - everyone finds their own interpretation of the vaguely presented tags. Some find humor while others seek to reminisce, but they all share the jaded mentality and frustration towards unjust society.
“I think empathy plays a big part, too,” Lil Quacky elaborated, “Chinese Graffiti Hub is pretty much the only account online that presents prose-based graffiti in such a lively form. I know my followers are seeking resonance, so I am very strict when it comes to picking out the content. I want to make sure the aesthetic is right, and viewers can be touched by the emotional entanglement as much as I am.”
Graffiti might be scrubbed away as time goes by, but thanks to Lil Quacky and Chinese Graffiti Hub, the ruined beauty can be revisited online.
Check out Chinese Graffiti Hub’s Instagram here.